“Touching history”, the Hands On desks programme at The British Museum

Image: BC.

Image: BC.

Last week I coincidentally stumbled upon a object handling session in the Asia gallery of the British Museum. Volunteers give visitors the unique opportunity to handle objects from the museum’s collection in six of the museum’s galleries. At the end of this year it will also be possible to handle African objects. More than 90 volunteers are involved. The desks are open daily, seven days a week, between 11.00 and 16.00. I wasn’t aware of this “Hands On Desks” programme (apparently already running since January 2000) and think its a wonderful idea to get the objects out of their glass cabinets and into the hands of visitors. As collectors, curators or dealers, most of us know that you can’t replace the feeling of actually touching an object. An evaluation of the programme showed that almost all visitors to Hands On desks said that the experience increased the quality of their visit and brought it to life. I sincerely hope other museums will follow the British Museum’s example.

A whole wall of magnificent Benin plaques at the British Museum, London. Image: BC.

A whole wall of magnificent Benin plaques at the British Museum, London. Image: BC.